Judge Upholds Michigan Union Power Grab

by Ivan Osorio on January 5, 2012

in Economy, Employment, Labor

A federal judge in Michigan has denied class action status to a lawsuit brought by a group of independent child care workers who objected to be forced into paying union dues. The Associated Press reports:

A federal judge in Grand Rapids has issued two key rulings, including a recent decision that said there simply are too many conflicts to make it a class-action case. Judge Robert Jonker (YONK-er) says there may be child-care providers who had no objection to paying dues.

Well, there are undoubtedly child care providers who do very much object to paying union dues, so much so that they filed suit — a common interest if there ever was one. Yet under Judge Jonker’s reasoning, apparently the willingness of some union members to pay union dues is enough to force others to do so.

Unfortunately, we can expect to see more efforts to corral government contractors into unions, as unionization shifts away from the private sector into government employment. Two years ago this month, the number of union members who work for government entities surpassed that of union members for private businesses. With good reason, a lot of labor leaders see the public sector as key to their unions’ future.

However, the huge budget problems that now beset governments in the United States at all levels make expand the government workforce more difficult. So what to do? Expand the definition of public to include anybody who receives any sort of state aid in the provision of social services such as home care for children or seniors. Thus, home care providers who work as independent contractors get reclassified as “public” employees and get union “dues” taken out of their state checks before they get them.

My co-authors Don Bellante and David Denholm and I pointed out this trend in a Cato Institute Policy Analysis on public sector unions:

Now some unions are trying to expand the definition of “public” by trying to organize government contractors. Washington state provides a good example of this. There, the trend began in 2001, when voters approved a ballot measure, Initiative 775, to allow independent long-termhealth care providersto unionize and bargain collectively over hours, compensation, andworking conditions. Then in 2007, Washington state authorized collective bargaining for adult-home-care providers who receive Medicaid and other state aid. Stretching the definition of “public employee” to any home-care provider who may contract with the state can give a public employee union a foothold in the private sector. Further, under such an arrangement, union fees can be deducted from state compensation checks before the recipients ever see them,so the care providers never miss money they never see.

An appeal in the Michigan case is expected. Yet this case deserves to go up to the Supreme Court. Herding workers into unions against their will under the pretense that they are government employees is a gross violation of those workers’ freedom of association. It is also violates their freedom of speech, as their forced dues go to fund political causes and candidates they may not support. Now Cato, the Mackinac Center (which provided counsel to the home care plaintiffs), and the National Federation of Independent Business have asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.

As Cato’s Ilya Shapiro notes today:

In 2003, Illinois unionized home healthcare workers and imbued the Service Employees International Union with the right to collect compulsory fees from the workers’ paychecks. Democracy is thus being turned on its head: the elected representatives for the people of Illinois have chosen a sub-representative for some of the people and given that sub-representative a taxing power.

In so doing, they have severely impaired home healthcare workers’ First Amendment right of association and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Without limits on government’s ability to forcibly unionize people who indirectly receive government-funded compensation (an increasingly large group), more and more citizens will have to interact with their representatives through a government-designated intermediary (a union); our democracy will become even more dominated by special interests than it is now.

The worst part is that for the special interest that stands to gain from union schemes like this, government employee unions, ever greater growth of government is the overriding goal.

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